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The Birth of Loud: Leo Fender, Les Paul, and the Guitar-Pioneering Rivalry That Shaped Rock 'n' Roll

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  446 ratings  ·  89 reviews
“A hot-rod joy ride through mid-20th-century American history” (The New York Times Book Review), this one-of-a-kind narrative masterfully recreates the rivalry between the two men who innovated the electric guitar’s amplified sound—Leo Fender and Les Paul—and their intense competition to convince rock stars like the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and Eric Clapton to play the instr ...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published January 15th 2019 by Scribner
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David Petersen Not really. It is more about entrepreneurship, innovation, and America of the 1940's, 50's and 60's.

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4.23  · 
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 ·  446 ratings  ·  89 reviews

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John Yingling
May 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
I learned a lot about the history of guitars in the 20th century, and grew to appreciate the inventiveness and persistence of Leo Fender and Les Paul in being on the ground floor, so to speak, of the music that would lead to pop and then rock and roll. The author does an exceptional job of putting all this into the context of the times, and also is first-rate in his descriptions of the lives of some of the giants of not just guitar music, but of the rise of rock and roll, including Buddy Holly, ...more
Brent Criswell
Jan 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I am reading an advance, galley proof copy of the book and eagerly awaiting the arrival of the hardcover edition in a couple of weeks. You don't have to be a guitar player, or even a Southern California history buff to be engaged by this book. The story of the rivalry between Leo Fender and Les Paul captures you from the first pages. It is an excellent read. Full disclosure: The author is my son-in-law. That being said, Objectively, I would still highly recommend this book.
David Doty
Jan 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Much more than a biography of the two titans of the electric guitar industry, Leo Fender and Les Paul, this book is a fascinating history of American music between 1950 and 1970, that includes several interesting profiles of musicians such as Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and Jimmy Hendrix. Thoroughly researched, and very well written, the book is a testament to the American ideals of ingenuity, hard work, and perseverance.

The Audible version is excellent, and the 9+ h
P.e. lolo
Feb 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, music
A book about the electric guitar and how it became a force in music. You get a look into Les Paul his life, his work with Gibson guitar and how his suggestions on their guitar made for a better smooth sound, especially for jazz. He was also able to have hit records in the early 50s with his second wife Mary Ford which also helped sales of that guitar. The author then takes you to Southern California Orange County where Leo Fender a radio repairman in the forties is going around to honky tonks an ...more
Jan 19, 2019 rated it liked it
This is a delightful little read about the two giants of electric guitar design and production whose instruments changed the world.

Neither “invented” the solid body electric guitar, indeed, as is well known, Les Paul basically had no input in designing the beautiful mahogany monster axe which bears his name.

Rather, Leo and Les occupy this story as the kind of obsessive tinkerers of a previous age; they are the grandchildren of Edison and Bell, the forefathers of Jobs and Gates. I’m not suggest
David Petersen
Feb 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Great story and insights into the development of the electric guitar. Also, the stories of entrepreneurs Leo Fender and Les Paul tell a rich tale about the rapidly changing America of the post-World War II era. The author is not the most graceful storyteller but does an excellent job of weaving the paths of these two interesting lives together and avoids the hero-worship narrative that misinforms the world about how innovation happens. (It is a team sport!)
Mar 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Written with enthusiasm and full of fascinating detail -- a must-read for music fans and musicians
Apr 24, 2019 rated it liked it
A really interesting look at the friendship and competition between the two biggest names behind the invention and growth of the electric guitar.
Joanne Farrell
Mar 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Well written and researched. Well done!
Feb 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
Now this was an interesting reading experience. I thought I knew something about this topic, but I must admit I was wrong. NOW I do. "Birth of Loud" starts small, describing the (largely independent) efforts of Leo Fender, Les Paul and others to get more volume out of the acoustic guitar. I had thought that Paul's efforts played the greater role. I was mistaken.

Author Ian Port is not a stylist; his writing is not the strength of the book, but the story is. About a third of the way in, my view sh
Sep 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I really enjoyed “The Birth of Loud.” I’ve been a fan of electric guitar-driven music since I was a kid in the late 60s. I’ve read many musician’s biographies and seen lots of music documentaries, but I still learned a tremendous amount reading this book. Before reading, I was certainly aware of Fender Stratocasters and Gibson Les Pauls, but I didn’t have a good sense for how they developed in competition with each other, their differences, and how the companies’ dueling products fueled so many ...more
Mar 25, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Contrary to what the title suggests, this book is not really about a rivalry. Yes, Fender and Paul were opposites: the former was a reserved perfectionist, the latter a gregarious showman. And yes, the products for which they are best known – the Fender Stratocaster (and Telecaster before it) and Gibson Les Paul took turns jockeying for popularity. But those expecting juicy tales of vendettas and sabotage might be disappointed to learn that Fender and Paul shared quite a bit in common. Both were ...more
James Murphy
Mar 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
When you consider the history of popular music in 20th Century American culture, you have to acknowledge the role played by the electric guitar. Ian S. Port explores the electric guitar's impact in his book "The Birth of Loud: Leo Fender, Les Paul, and the Guitar-Pioneering Rivalry That Shaped Rock 'n' Roll." Port describes, in a marvelous conversational style, the evolution and effect of the electric guitar. Leo Fender was a quiet, half-blind, self-taught radio repairman who tinkered with elect ...more
Gerald Matzke
May 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was a fascinating account of the development of the electric guitar in the late 1940’s though the 1960’s. Two of the most significant individuals in this period were Leo Fender and Les Paul. Their names appear on most of the guitars produced during that time. The author is very thorough in bringing out the backgrounds of these two figures who were very different. Fender was an inventor and tinkerer, always working to find a better way, a better sound, and a better overall product. Les Paul ...more
Jan 29, 2019 rated it liked it
Excellent, easy read about the birth of the birth of the electric guitar and loud music.

I always loved music but i never been a musician. I can't tell if a musician is very skilled, nor do i care really. I also never been much interested in instruments with which my favorite music was made, i guess i knew i was never going to playing those anyway. But i do recognize a Fender Telecaster or Stratocaster and a Gibson Les Paul.

This book tells the history of how the electric guitar came to be. The in
John Sklar
Feb 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2019
If you have ever heard me talk about my days selling guitars you will hear an echo as you read this book. From 1963-68 I was around selling guitars and amps. Later, of course, I was and still am a consumer of these products.
Bringing the music and the hardware together with the personalities of the tinkerers and inventors is fascinating. The first time I saw a Bigsby guitar I wondered how Leo Fender got away with it. And the first time I played a stratocaster and later owned a jazzmaster, I wond
Brad Linden
Apr 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
There is so much more to this story than I ever imagined. I expected stories of invention, tinkering, technical details, and successes as we learn how Fender and Gibson pioneered the modern electric guitar. While all those things are included, the real story is how deeply interwoven these instruments are into the history of music and culture from the 1950's and on. The needs of musicians inspired the inventions of Fender/Les Paul, and their inventions then dramatically shaped the ways musicians ...more
Rob Murphy
May 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is an incredibly interesting history of how the electric guitar changed modern music and ushered in a number of significant cultural moments. Although not really a rivalry, Leo Fender and Les Paul, with the help of Paul Bigsby, brought about the evolution of the guitar through invention, trial and error, and friendly competition. There are major rock icons who act as minor characters who had a significant impact on the success of Fender and Les Paul guitars including Muddy Waters, Ike Turne ...more
Jun 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
You had better be a real rock fan to enjoy this. At times, author Port seems a tad too in awe of the two rivals. Leo Fender and Les Paul (of Gibson guitar fame), raced each other in the 1950's to carve out turf in the expanding electric guitar market. Quite fairly, Port makes a case that these two pretty much catalyzed this entire market explosion.

Most fun is the dichotomy between the geeky nerdy introvert, Fender, seeking sonic perfection chasing electrons to and fro, all the while hating the m
Mickey McIntosh
Apr 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The Lakers vs. The Celtics
McDonalds vs. Burger King
Pepsi vs Coke
Some famous rivals, but so is Leo Fender vs. Les Paul
This is the story of two pioneers who's tinkering with guitars and sound would revolutionize music in post World War II America, and beyond.
This is a great story about Paul and Fender who started a friendly competition as to see who could design a better guitar, that would lead to altering the sound of music far beyond they could imagine.
Great read, and great story about not just
Aug 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I LOVED this book. A must-read for any guitar player. Ian Port’s writing is fast-moving and entertaining, capturing so many compelling details and anecdotes about Leo Fender, Les Paul, the guitars that bear their names and the musicians who popularized them. Among the many interesting storylines is how completely opposite these two men were: Paul, the self-absorbed virtuoso performer, and Fender, the introverted self-taught engineer who couldn’t even play guitar but loved innovating and solving ...more
Bill O'driscoll
Aug 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Devoured this expedient tour through the history of electric guitar through three pivotal decades with the two titular two innovators. Port cleverly weaves their stories in with those of other key musicians who were key in the development or popularization of guitars and amps, including Muddy Waters, Buddy Holly, Dick Dale, Carol Kaye and Jimi Hendrix. (He might have worked in Sister Rosetta Tharpe to illuminate the history of the Gibson SG, but ah, well.) He's got great material to work with an ...more
Feb 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wonderful telling of an amazing story about music, technology, dedication, invention, and the foibles, false starts, hits and misses of the electric guitar. Ian Port writes in a straightforward, entertaining style and mostly gets everything right. I did learn some things I didn't know before, but most of the narrative is familiar ground. John Mayall does play piano and guitar, but arguably his main instrument is the blues harmonica, which Port fails to note. And, it's likely that Port meant Mitc ...more
Mike Walter
Feb 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What A Soaring Read

I really really loved this book. Everything about it! It was incredibly well researched with tons of insight about the invention of the electric guitar and the music it helped shape in the 50s and 60s. But it wasn't just educational. Port's writing, especially when describing the playing of guitar greats like Les Paul and Dick Dale is superb. His page and a half of Hendrix' "Star Spangled Banner" is probably the highlight of the whole book. I had to stop reading and listen alo
Laura K
Mar 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
You do not have to be a guitar nerd to like this book! I would suggest that you have a love of music and a rudimentary knowledge of guitars and other instruments used in the 1950's - 80's to fully enjoy this quick read. The chapters are short and move along between Leo Fender (developer of the iconic Stratocaster), Les Paul (whom the classic Gibson is named after) and just a select few other players of note. We learn about the people who basically fell into this huge industry and learned by the ...more
Tom Armbruster
Jul 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
I really liked this book. Interesting to read about the different personalities involved in the creation of the "modern" electric guitar. Tracks Les and Leo's individual paths through the development of the electric guitar, :Les more from a playing perspective and Leo from an engineering view. Then transitions to the players who made the Telecaster, Stratocaster and Les Paul guitars famous. There are a few side notes that didn't seem totally necessary (I didn't need to know, for instance that Bu ...more
Nov 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I got a free galley of this book and thought it might go either way as to whether or not this would be a book that I would enjoy. I love listening to music, but I don't play and have no real affinity for or knowledge about different types of guitars. I figured I would start reading it and if I didn't get into it fairly quickly I would put it down. I did not put it down. This book was fascinating. I had no idea about the history of electric guitars or the people who invented them. There was so mu ...more
Jan 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The cover headline suggested a hard-nosed duel between Leo Fender and Les Paul. I guess that marketing feels that all history needs to be viewed through a competitive lens to sell books today. Happily, this is a straightforward history of the development of electric guitars and basses (and some of the iconic amplifiers), the inventors who developed them, and the players who popularized them, from about 1945 to 1970. I loved it, undiminished by having heard many of the stories before. It made a f ...more
Vincent Cervoni
Mar 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It was riveting, but..

I truly enjoyed how this book wove together the stories of Les Paul and Leo Fender. I have specific criticism. I have read several times about the Stratocaster that Eric Clapton has bought for Jimi Hendrix and am near positive that it was a left-handed Strat. This bears clarification as Jimi had never before bothered with a left-handed Strat. Secondly, how a Eric Clapton had begun playing the Stratocaster should have been told in a few paragraphs. Many credit Clapton with
Don Gorman
Jun 01, 2019 rated it it was ok
(2). I was in several rock bands in the 60's and 70's, plus I maintain full membership in the music aficionado world association, so I was fairly familiar with the story here. I did not know much about Leo Fender, but was pretty well versed on Les Paul. The evolution of the electric guitar, bass and amplifiers is interesting, but only to a pretty small universe. Some of the business goings on here are pretty cool, and the celebrity aspect of it all works most of the time, too. This is a fun book ...more
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